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Lead us not into temptation

By rob taylor  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

New Year card sent to a Darlaston girl.

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EVERYONE has always had their own New Year traditions, from settling old debts, to drinking and singing in the streets, bellringing or wassailing apple trees. Opening doors or windows to let the old year out and the new year in by a dark haired male bearing gifts of bread, salt and coal.

Nowadays we are more likely to take stock of our lives and make 'New Year Resolutions.' You know the good intentions - give up smoking, keep fit, or even try to be more assertive. Oh, yes, and refrain from checking mobile phones every three minutes, that's another modern day addiction. Perhaps the most popular resolution is 'to lose weight,' but the question is, are we hungry or just plain greedy? By now we have all made our decisions, and surely broken most of them. However, we are not unique, as the people sending these greetings probably also 'gave up' their resolution pretty quickly, and 'gave in' to their cravings. Just as I am reminding you not to be tempted, some of these messages were also acting as a reminder.

With all that weight of tradition bearing down on them, and weird family customs, they must have surrendered to the dipping levels of sugar in their blood and binged on the remains of a festive feast.

But, just like us they didn't know when it was time to stop eating, and 'tucked in.' Now, I'm not suggesting for one moment that Miss S. Herbert from 42, New Street, Darlaston, was a plump young lady, needing to lose weight. However, on January 10th 1920, Jim, a young gentleman from Wednesbury, sent his love and this greetings card showing a twenties flapper reading her list of New Years Resolutions. Did Miss Herbert have a long list of things that tempted her, as Jim sent this note "Don't forget to make your New Year Resolutions, and don't 'give in,' love from Jim."

 Although, she may have been a good girl really, and didn't need to break any habits of a lifetime. With all the flapping she was probably slim and trim; thanks to the Charleston and the Black Bottom.

During the Twenties, as part of New Year resolutions, even children were encouraged to be good. Parents had some strange ideas for children already still giddy from eating too much chocolate. Little ones were encouraged to eat up their puddings and finish up the fat on their meat, or they were told, "You'll sit there till you've eaten it."

 Not a good resolution really, but they did, as children have big appetites, because they are genuinely hungrier and need more calories.

However, adults had become particularly interested in the 'New Health' movement which frowned on fat and promoted raw salads and roughage. There was an almost total ignorance about nutrition then prevailing, consequently most people regarded the new diet as cranky and expensive. Nevertheless, for some it became part of their resolution promises, especially in 1923 when there was an 'Eat More Fruit' campaign, just as we have these days with 'Eat Five a Day.' Yet in the Twenties it was conducted with the aid of a song. The clever little ditty went: "As Eve said to Adam, the saucy little madam, Oh Adam, you should eat more fruit."

 Perhaps girls imagined the theory was, as their skirts went up and down in length with the state of the economy, a decent lady had to adjust her measurements accordingly.

Therefore, the calorie reducing fruit diet solved the battle with the bulge.

Between 1919-23 ladies wore thinner, longer dresses, landing just above the ankle, making ladies want to be long and lean. Many New Year resolutions must have included the very popular, carbohydrate diet, iron diet and lemon-juice diet, all of which were supposed to keep a girl, 'slim and regular.' However, fashion was fickle and so by the mid-twenties, for some strange reason, padded hips became the vogue; curves were coming back.

By the end of the decade short tubular dresses had almost disappeared in favour of a more shapelier design, allowing things to spread a little.

This was when ladies discovered 'keeping fit' to shed the pounds. They probably had good intentions at the beginning of the year, but soon said "Toodle-pip" to all the jumping about in navy blue interlock bloomers.

Some interest still survived into the Thirties, with ladies tottering along to clubs promising fitness and freedom.

But the compelling attraction was fun, excitement and laughter with like minded friends wanting to shed a few pounds. One of the worst things a husband can do is buy a subscription to a health club for his wife at the start of a year. It is almost like saying "You're fat and need to make a New Year Resolution."

 Rations However, during those far off Thirties, for some families they were lean years. There was little need for an enforced diet as they were already experiencing a cut in rations, no need for a dispiriting resolution. Unconsciously they were getting the benefit of a nutritionally balanced diet. One of the greatest ironies of the Thirties was that shorter rations would lead to healthier eating. Yet to be fashionable was still to be slim. Although figures were encouraged to be more feminine and curvaceous than the skinniness of the Twenties.

Temptations play havoc with our well-made intentions set out on January 1st. When I purchased a small collection of memorabilia which had once belonged to a family from West Bromwich one item particularly made me smile.

Maybe the physical need for food was just too great for Mrs J. Bird of 2, Springfield Crescent, Florence Road, West Bromwich, making her turn to 'Silf Obesity Tablets.' Supplied with the tablets was a weight card and Mrs Bird had recorded "October 10th, 1934; 8st. 11lbs. 8ozs."

 A weight that many ladies these days can only dream about.

She had been a "Wise woman, keeping slim with Silf," as the slogan promised, and had achieved the required weight as shown for her height as suggested on the chart. There was no need to worry about the temptation of glorious food or making a resolution in January 1935.

When we see a fine bouncing baby we coo at the little one’s plumpness, however through previous generations mothers were constantly chastised about their babies’ weight. Once they were told hungry babies should be left to cry, then later they were instructed that they should feed their infants on a fourhourly schedule throughout the day and they shouldn't be influenced by any amount of howling.

An inexperienced young mom usually listened to her own mother; and this appears to have worked perfectly for the family of Miss Ivy Smith from 32, Thompson Street.

Jubilee Building, Bilston. She was known as Auntie Ivy and had been sent photographs of three generations of her family.

They were captured long before the great upheavals of war, consequently this family look as though they enjoyed good wholesome food - a roast joint with boiled cabbage and roast potatoes made with goose fat, meat pies with a suet crust and fried fish with battered chips, followed by apple or treacle tart, or a suet pud that stuck to your ribs.

"You Are What You Eat," was probably never an idea behind their menu. Yet what happened to the waistlines of the next generation of the Smiths during W.W.II. They certainly must have noticed the curious effect of rationing as they were eating a healthier diet in spite of themselves.

Much less fatty meat and fewer sweet, sticky wet puddings, but they consumed more fresh fruit and vegetables.

With the drop in rations, there must have been a drop of the hand on the bathroom scales. A New Year resolution to lose weight was never a consideration during wartime.

I'm not saying we need a war, but this was a time when we were not led by the temptation to over eat, we just couldn't. Even so don't forget this important resolution, I haven't because I've done some research and I can confirm that Mr Kipling bakes exceedingly fattening mince pies.

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